[Advaita-l] shaDdarhana and other unorthodox schools

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Fri Jan 19 20:00:34 CST 2007

Let me make it clear that I personally DON'T CARE whether or not
Western philosophers have "approved" the qualification of certain
Indian darshanas as constituting "philosophy". To look for approval
from those who are barely knowledgeable about the very existence of
Indian traditions is preposterous.

However, I'm interested in debunking the claim that the "DOMINANT
view is that India has not produced any philosophy" (hereafter "the
claim") -- for the simple reason that it is *** FACTUALLY INCORRECT

I'll be quoting Western philosophers to disprove the above claim

The word "philosophy" is an English word, derived from Greek roots.
Since we're applying the word in a different cultural context, we can
check whether those who are "philosophers" in the Western tradition
have called certain strains of Indian thought as philosophy. This
will definitely disprove the claim.

I will show that there are not only plenty of cases where *eminent*
Western philosophers have called certain schools of Indian thought as
philosophy, but that those who hold the contrarian view are in the

People who stand by the above claim need to provide more evidence,
especially for the *** DOMINANT *** part of the claim.

--- Ram Garib <garib_ram at yahoo.co.in> wrote:

> Sri S Jayanarayanan wrote:
> > I too would like to know Ram Garib's source for
> > stating that there
> > exists such a "dominant" view -- what is the
> > reference for his tall
> > claim? After all, if it is such a widely prevalent
> > view, surely he
> > can cite at least 5 independently published sources!
> Sylvain wrote:
> "For those who read French, this article is very
> interesting :
> "Yes.  I personnally studied in philosophy and I think
> this sentence is 
> correct. it is probably due to western "ethnocentrism"
> or 
> "culturocentrism" (variations of egocentrism).  I
> guess the idea is « How people 
> that were colonized could develop a notable
> philosophy, a significant 
> spirituality ?"
> Thanks Sylvain for coming to my rescue. I will be
> grateful if you can translate the gist in English.

Here's the google translation (French to English) of the conclusion
of the article posted above {emphases mine):

"Tentative conclusion
   Confrontations between various the schools resulting from the two
large religious currents that are Hindouisme and Buddhism, brought to
the development of speech, which as much in their form (where logic
and dialectical is explicitly proposed) that in their contents (for
example on the problem of the relation between unit and multiplicity,
that of the substantial existence of ego or time etc) CANNOT BE
retained: that of Advaïta Védanta of the with dimensions Hindu, and
that of Madhyamika of the with dimensions Buddhist. The border is
thus not so obvious, there is many points of meeting between Occident
and the East."

Even in the ONE reference that has been cited to prove the claim, the
conclusion is that advaita VedAnta and mAdhyamika Buddhism are close
to what can be called "philosophy" in the West! This from an article
whose title reads, "Borders of philosophy: there is philosophy only
in Occident?" No doubt the article dismisses a lot of "religious
beliefs" in India as non-philosophical, but for that matter, no one
will consider all of the Catholic Church's teachings as constituting
philosophy. The West is slowly learning about India and other
cultures, and it takes time for understanding the subtlety of
philosophical thought from other lands.

Will Durant has included the Chinese and Indian schools of philosophy
in his "Story of Civilization" series, under the title "Our Oriental
Heritage", in an attempt to see beyond ethnocentrism in American
academia. He compares Sankara and Kant and sees much similarity in
their writings (which I actually don't buy, because Sankara's
writings are really deeper than Kant).

I'm yet to see any evidence of the "dominant" view that "India has
not produced any philosophy at all".

> Coming to Sri Jayanarayan's point, the most prominent
> name that comes to my mind is Dr. Albert Sweitzher,
> who was of the opinion that "fits of certainty" can
> hardly be called philosophy.

And I can quote Karl Jaspers and Voltaire, who are, by almost every
yardstick, the superior philosophers compared to Schweitzer.

> Anyway, you don't have to
> take it on anyone's authority. Just browse through
> graduate curricullum of philosphy of some of the
> universities outside India to appreciate what I am
> saying.

Now you're saying something quite different: that the *curricula* in
Western academia do not reflect the notion that at least *some*
Indian thought can be considered philosophy. This is in marked
contrast to completely dismissing all Indian thought as being outside
the realm of philosophy.

> You may sometime find a section on "World
> Philosophy" as an appendix to the main philosophy
> curriculum but it is hardly any consolation to see
> buddhism and non-dualism competing for space with
> paganism and wicca. For a decent treatment of Indian
> schools, you will have to go to theology or indology
> department.

You seem ignorant of the present-day American philosophy departments.
A personal experience: I wanted to take a few classes on Western
philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and talked to quite
a few professors there, and most of them recommended that I attend
lectures by Robert Solomon, because "He's one of the best we have
here. You simply cannot go wrong with him."

Here's a quote from the first chapter, "Is There Ultimate Truth?" of
Solomon's book "A Passion for Wisdom" (co-authored with Higgins):

"Perhaps the oldest recorded philosophy comes from India...For
several centuries, Indian philosophers defended a conception of
absolute reality, or Brahman, which some insisted was utterly
independent of and unknown to ordinary human experience..."

> Surely, Schopenheur and Neitzshe and a whole host of
> philosophers were deeply impressed by indian thought,
> but in what context? You will invariably find that it
> is the spiritual or religious context that they are
> talking about not the philosophical one.

If you noticed, I avoided mentioning Nietzsche, because he is
actually very different from mainstream philosophy for "turning
ethics on its head".

But here is a dialog that Voltaire "made up" after his readings on
Indian philosophy (WARNING: the dialog is rather simplistic, but
drives home a certain point):

Voltaire's Story Of The Good Brahmin

"I wish I had never been born!" the Brahmin remarked.

"Why so?" said I.

"Because," he replied, "I have been studying these forty years, and I
find that it has been so much time lost...I believe that I am
composed of matter, but I have never been able to satisfy myself what
it is that produces thought. I am even ignorant whether my
understanding is a simple faculty like that of walking or digesting,
or if I think with my head in the same manner as I take hold of a
thing with my hands...I talk a great deal, and when I have done
speaking I remain confounded and ashamed of what I have said."

The same day I had a conversation with an old woman, his neighbor. I
asked her if she had ever been unhappy for not understanding how her
soul was made? She did not even comprehend my question. She had not,
for the briefest moment in her life, had a thought about these
subjects with which the good Brahmin had so tormented himself. She
believed in the bottom of her heart in the metamorphoses of Vishnu,
and provided she could get some of the sacred water of the Ganges in
which to make her ablutions, she thought herself the happiest of
women. Struck with the happiness of this poor creature, I returned to
my philosopher, whom I thus addressed:

"Are you not ashamed to be thus miserable when, not fifty yards from
you, there is an old automaton who thinks of nothing and lives

"You are right," he replied. "I have said to myself a thousand times
that I should be happy if I were but as ignorant as my old neighbor;
and yet it is a happiness which I do not desire."

This reply of the Brahmin made a greater impression on me than
anything that had passed.

Does it seem like Voltaire is impressed by the Brahmin's "religious
beliefs"?! Is Voltaire being crazy when he calls the Brahmin a

(Frankly, Voltaire is simplifying many things in the above dialog,
but that was his philosophical style -- he wrote philosophy for the
common man.)

> Even today
> after tremendous interest in buddhism and non-dualism,
> you still don't see any philosophers expounding on
> them. If at all, their place is found in their
> personal lives, not academic.

I agree that the kind of "Eurocentrism" that Sylvain has talked about
has been the norm in the past, but there are many Western
philosophers, especially in America (e.g Robert Solomon), who state
in plain words that Vedanta is not only philosophy, but that it was
probably the earliest recorded one in the world today. It is to be
noted that Solomon, in his all-inclusive style, finds a lot of
African thought in the subject of ethics that also qualifies as

In any case, you should be aware that the word "philosophy" merely
stands for "LOVE FOR WISDOM". Most cultures emphasize that ethics is
the way to such wisdom, so even ordinary discussions on ethics, such
as "should I buy a hybrid car because it helps the environment",
actually constitute philosophy, although only in a tangential manner.
For this reason, Martin Luther King, who may be commonly regarded as
a social reformer, can also be considered a philosopher for his
writings on ethics.

> With regards,
> Ram Garib


PS: I didn't want to bring it up in this email, but as a matter of
fact, I too disagree with labeling Sankara as a mere "philosopher".
No doubt he had a great love for wisdom (as he was a GYAnI), and he
wrote a lot on the subject of knowledge and perception, but he really
cannot be fit into the "philosopher ONLY" mould. This is because a
lot of his works overlap philosophy and religion, and he can be
considered both a philosopher as well as a saint. This kind of person
is almost absent in the West, where the dichotomoy between philosophy
and theology is ingrained in the culture.

Sankara's delineation of philosophy and religion is EXTREMELY SUBTLE,
which I will post about later. Briefly, it goes something like this:

1) Establish "The Self is not the body" -- purely by reasoning --
2) The statement "The Self is Brahman" -- comes from shruti --
3) Actually KNOWING the Self -- beyond all philosophy and religion,
and the culmination of both.

Don't pick lemons.
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